Hellfire woman

Drone operator kills insurgents from 7,000 miles away

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Daily Beast has published a veritable day-in-the-life account of a woman RPA sensor, or drone operator. Annie, better known in the story by her call name, Sparkle, lives in Las Vegas and works the graveyard shift flying missions over Afghanistan and Iraq — all without ever leaving Nevada. In some ways, Sparkle seems like any ordinary woman as she heads out to work, bringing along a lunch box and diversions to pass the time if things get “boring.” But Sparkle is far from being an ordinary woman. On the day that The Daily Beast followed Sparkle during a shift in 2009, she, along with her drone pilot, Spade, were waiting to eliminate a mid-level Taliban leader by carefully dropping a hellfire missile on him. The whole operation is meticulously planned and coordinated to be effective and to avoid collateral damage — military speak for casualty civilians. Sparkle is a vivid character who operates with aplomb and no qualms. Talking about the job of killing jihadists from thousands of miles away, she said, “I use it to emasculate the enemy in the afterlife. Many radical jihadists believe that being killed by a woman means they will not enter heaven. Considering how they treat their women, I’m OK with rubbing salt in the wound.” Eventually, their Taliban target was blown to piece, but not by Sparkle and Spade — their colleagues did the deed that day (every drone strike is, at least, double-covered). But Sparkle went on to ruminate on the horrors she witnesses at work and the gumption it takes to do the job right and still be able to sleep at night. Unlike pilots who are in the planes they’re flying, drone operators don’t get to flee the scene after dropping a Hellfire missile. They have to stick around and make sure the target was eliminated, and, through high-powered cameras, they see some gruesome sights. “I watched a guy crawl away from wreckage after one shot with no lower body. He slowly died. You have to watch that. You don’t get to turn away. You can’t be that soft girly traditional feminine and do the job. Those are the people who are going to have nightmares.”

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.

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